Teaching Habits: Helping Students "Do School" Better

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This summer, I stumbled upon a book that was on the coffee table at my parents house: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I haphazardly picked it up and started to read. I was completely drawn in. In his book, Duhigg unpacks the stories of people who have overcome addiction, lost massive amounts of weight, and completely changed their lives. Duhigg goes on to explain that these people are essentially unicorns in the human behavior research community. According to the U.S. News and World Report, 80% of New Years Resolutions fail by February and only 8% survive the entire year. Naturally, the researchers wanted to know what set these people apart. Why were they successful? Duhigg goes on to explain that this group of people actively worked to change their habits. To be able to change your habits, you need to understand how the science of habits work. If you're interested in knowing more about this, I highly recommend reading the book. You can get it here

Why do this assignment with your students?

I have noticed over the last several years that my incoming ninth grade students really seem to struggle. I mean, really really seem to struggle. I said to my colleague one day, "It's almost like they don't know how to 'do school.'" Given the strange spring semester they just experienced, the different fall start we will be having this year, and the fact that they are living through a global pandemic, I figured the students would need help getting themselves organized now more than ever. 

The Video

I claim no great prowess in video design, but made a quick video using Canva and iMovie so that students would have something to view that taught them the concepts from The Power of Habit. This could be taught in person as well, but given our hybrid (and possibly soon to be distance learning model) I wanted to create more digital content for the students. I originally typed up the assignment for them, but figured they would likely want a break from reading. You are welcome to share the video with your students as well.

The Life Hack Journal(s) Assignment

Below you will find the three journal prompts I used for this assignment. These are suggestions--adapt them to what works for you. 

Journal #1

Write a 1 page (double spaced) journal entry or a 3 minute podcast style recording talking through the life hack that you will be establishing to help you improve this year in school and/or orchestra. 

Make sure you respond to each of the following questions... 

1) Will you be selecting option A (changing an existing habit) or option B (creating a new positive habit)? 

2) What is your habit? 

3) Why have you selected this habit? 

4) Identify your cue, habit, and reward

Journal #2

Write a 1 page (double spaced) journal entry or a 3 minute podcast style recording talking through the life hack that you will be establishing to help you improve this year in school and/or orchestra. 

Make sure you respond to each of the following questions... 

1) Have you been able to successfully change/implement a new habit? If no, why not? 

2) What are two or three big takeaways you have from your new or changed habit? 

3) If you have not been successful, what can you do to help yourself be successful? Do you need to change your cue, habit, or reward? 

4) If you have been successful, what is another habit you could implement to improve your success in orchestra/school in general/or life? Remember...we are looking at LIFE HACKS!

Journal #3

Write a 1 page (double spaced) journal entry or a 3 minute podcast style recording talking through the life hack that you will be establishing to help you improve this year in school and/or orchestra. 

Make sure you respond to each of the following questions... 

1) Are you still on track with your first habit that you selected in Journal Entry 1? 

2) What are two or three big takeaways you have from your new or changed habit? 

3) Have you moved on to trying other habits? 

4) Do you feel successful in this? If no, how could you be more successful in this?

The Rubric

I often use rubrics for assessing student's playing, but it was rare that I did this for any writing assignments because 1) I thought it wasn't really my place to judge their writing and 2) we don't do a lot of writing assignments in orchestra. However, I have found that students will often turn in garbage writing because they think it doesn't matter for music class. I shared this concern with a grad school colleague, and she shared that creating a rubric has really helped her see improved effort from the students. That guidance can help them get more out of the assignment. I asked one of my private violin students to complete the first journal entry so there would be an "Student Example" for the students as well. I will not share her writing here, but consider doing something like that for your students as well. If you are a music educator reading this, considering using this rubric or a rubric of your own design to ensure students take the assignment seriously.

Get PDF for my Rubric Here

Good luck, and I hope you and your students find some zen this year! 

 

10 comments

  • Jennifer
    Jennifer Oregon
    I tried this in my classroom and my students loved it!

    I tried this in my classroom and my students loved it!

  • Jamie
    Jamie Minnesota
    This year has been crazy challenging with all the changes. These are great prompts for discussing new routines and habits! I also love adding some motivational interview questions to assess desire to change, since a large quantity of students are so apathetic this year.

    This year has been crazy challenging with all the changes. These are great prompts for discussing new routines and habits! I also love adding some motivational interview questions to assess desire to change, since a large quantity of students are so apathetic this year.

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